The Banjo player rule.

I’m an equal opportunity offender. Mostly I don’t do it on purpose. It requires little effort on my part, except to continue to breathe. In some cases that I ever did breathe is enough.

So you might say this is my natural talent, and while I’m good for ‘show-don’t-tell’ as a result, I should really stick to pontificating about something I know a little bit about. Fortunately, we have excellent precedents as to why that not required any more. Excellent precedents, Presidents, Prime Ministers and just about every celebrity in existence. For some reason people take them seriously, though why is beyond me. It’s even true of traditionally published and award winning SF/Fantasy authors.

I suppose one’s opinion on that expertise may differ if you consider males to be ‘ancillary people’. As an ancillary person, I really have done my best to help my female compatriots to achieve workplace equality in my little field, or rather, paddock. Crutching daggy merino sheep is an appallingly sexist field entirely dominated by men. It’s important and respected work too. I would happily arrange the opportunity for Ann and Kameron to come and destroy the patriarchy by showing us all that they can do it better. But perhaps just writing ‘Women have always crutched’ would do. So much less physically demanding, smelly, and less full of maggots, or at least one hopes this is the case.

Seriously, there is an element of the Banjo player joke about ‘offense’ (yes I will explain, eventually). Let’s be clear here, I’m not actually talking about the ‘extract-rent-by-being-perpetually-offended’ clique that Political Correctness spawned. What that is, generally, is a quest of Danegeld (in the shape of power, money, special perks). And as Kipling observed, you never get rid of the Dane. You can do your very best, comply with every petty demand… and the goalposts would just move ahead of you. They have to: that’s the test of offense-for-benefit. There’s no use in letting bygones be bygones and no longer get rent from it. It’s really a form of psychological abuse, preying on the better side of human nature. And the reality is that, almost inevitably, the more strident, the more demanding… the smaller the group. Even if allied with a slew of others, given the way the zeitgeist is moving, it’s not a big hill of beans, and shrinking. They’re just, as beans can be, noisy and… fragrant. So – if you can never appease them and they’re not that many of them… Why bother to try?

There is one possible reason: they could be your key customers. That, in the case of most traditionally published authors, is the situation. Remember, their customers are New York traditional publishing bubble, not those hoi-polloi readers. I suppose it’s a good enough reason if they pay you well enough, and you’re happy with that. Of course that is very much an isolated bubble rapidly diverging from the tastes and opinions of a lot of readers. Once-upon-a-time they – as the gatekeepers to retail, had capacity to drive sales – or destroy them. This has diminished. Not vanished, but shrunk. But they are selling into a fast shrinking pool.

I predict traditionally published authors are going to find themselves in a cleft stick pretty soon – either offend the publishers (in which case they’ll stop being traditionally published) or offend that part of the readership that increasingly detests the tastes and opinions of the NY bubble. That’s going to leave a very nasty fight over a declining pool of resources (customers).

Of course you could always aim to not be as inept as me, and actually try hard not to offend your target audience. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is the banjo player. How do you stop a banjo player from drowning? You take your foot off his head…

Which is particularly funny if said to a banjo player, or, just as likely, BY a banjo player. It’s ridiculous, not even banjo players take it seriously.

Now try substituting in other ‘victims’. Lawyers. Arabs. Seventh Day Adventists. Puppies. Depending on your audience, some people will find various variations hilarious. There are a few most audiences will find objectionable. This, it seems likely, is Leckie and Hurley’s shtick in this panel which at least two of their audience found very, very funny. Given that they’re noted newest wave feminists, and not precisely known for their skill at writing male characters, and that their feminist audience found them really funny, I think we can safely guess it was the sort of misandry typical of feminist extremists – especially among their own. The equivalent of ‘grab them by the pussy’ comments to fit their particular audience.

Like Banjo players most men understand the ridiculous nature of these jokes. If you substitute the opposites – making the jokes misogynistic – the feminists are going to be screeching for your utter destruction… even though it is actually the same jokes. Leckie and Hurley are playing to their audience, to the people who buy their books. These are the feminist equivalent of John Norman of Gor fame, giving their audience what they want. Now, as I feel John Norman, or Jill Normelle or whatever, should be free to publish and try and sell their books in an unobstructed marketplace, I can hardly criticize this strategy. You just need to be aware that that IS your target audience, and reach them. And, if necessary, prepare for fervent shrieking and screeching from the offended – who aren’t your market and were never going to buy your books anyway. It does seem to increase sales, even if it hurts the eardrums.

The second possible way is what I term ‘consideration’ – a thing which is sometimes willfully confused with ‘respect’ (Respect is a different animal, much harder to earn, and keep, and not freely given for no reason). You don’t show teenage kids mock-ups of their father’s severed head. You don’t deliberately set about mocking the weak for laughs – the banjo player joke just ain’t funny when you make it Downs Syndrome kid. I’d probably flatten you if you made it. And most decent folk would stand on your head.

It requires something that authors OUGHT to be good at: putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, seeing a character or scene from their point of view. Realistically, you can subject most things to the banjo player test – if you were substituted into that portrayal – would you take offense? Would you find it trivial?

It seems a reasonable and sensible thing do, if you’re not making your living by appealing to a narrow group. You can’t please everyone, all the time. It makes sense to at least not piss off your obvious customers, especially large groups of them. YMMV.

Apologies -the link is now fixed.

64 Comments

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64 responses to “The Banjo player rule.

  1. paladin3001

    Going to have to remember this.

  2. Christopher M. Chupik

    Write faster, I hear banjoes!

  3. There was a joke of sorts I remember reading a while back. About how the Zombie Apocalypse would be nothing more than entertainment for the protagonists if the protagonists were a bunch of gun happy banjo playin’ rednecks. If such a thing happened, well, there’d be a cheer, because that’s a guilt free target rich environment right there! Hold my beer an’ watch this! That sort of thing.

    I kind of wanted to read that story, because it sounded like it could be a highly entertaining read. The folks that come to mind are the sort who found picking off Germans easier than hunting for the meat to put on their table. The men are the sort who know how to be men, but were raised well by their mamas and cherish their ladies, but also know when to put their foot down and disagree with their wives without having to be afraid of her destroying him simply for disagreeing. The women that I imagine for that setting are the kind who take no lip from anyone – not their sons or husbands, and endure no sass from their daughters, and woe betide you if you step a hair out of line, because that’s a switchin’. The kids I picture are the kinds who have slingshots and pocketknives in their pockets, running barefooted wherever they go, because shoes get in the way of getting a grip if you’re scrambling up rocks or trees; both girls and boys with a playground that consists of their whole mountain. The teenagers? The kind who can chop wood to burn those pyres, carry buckets of water to wet the ground around that, bring in the harvest as well as their parents, and either the brother or sister more than willing to scrap with someone who hurt their sibling. And all of them very much at home with using a firearm, and knowing when to use them.

    It’d be interesting indeed to read how those sorts of folks would handle it. But that’s just me.

  4. Good points all, but the link doesn’t work. Shadowdancer is right, too. THAT is the kind of story that sells with ‘our’ readers. Real people, living real lives…

  5. Luke

    There are quite a lot of bitter spinsters. It’s a niche market, but one where virtue signaling and wine swilling bookclubs can provide you a good living catering to them. I can think of several authors who have been doing so for half a century.
    .
    That said, even those who are scared of them, don’t like them.
    Whatever they’re screaming about is receiving free advertising.
    Sure, none of their clique will buy it, but they’re only a small slice of the population. And the biggest problem for beginning authors (beyond writing something worth reading and actually finishing it) is getting exposure. People can’t buy your story if they don’t even know about it, after all.
    (Of course, I’m nailing my colours to the mast in my first novel. It’s the plus side of being a hobbyist; I don’t actually have to care about killing a career.)

    • Yep, it’s a clear niche, and they’re welcome to it. Coarse calculation (and wildly inaccurate, but better than none) based on 200 million adults, 50% of people buying books, 65% female, 16% support for extreme feminism (IIRC that’s the last figure I saw) and around 2% of purchases being SF/Fantasy still gives that niche around 200 000 possible customers – if their books are translated into other languages.

  6. Virtue.. signalling…
    Does “virtue” have superluminal advantage?
    Or is it just a curiosity sort of thing, kinda like Steampunk?

  7. adventuresfantastic

    “These are the feminist equivalent of John Norman of Gor fame”

    ROTFLMAO

    • I hear though that the Gor series has some popularity, and continues to sell copies; and has …how many books now?

      • John R. Ellis

        Norman is in (I think) his 90s now, but apparently he’s still writing them. And (according to a short documentary from back in 2014) he’s apparently shocked and puzzled as to why anyone would consider them to be sexual. At least, according to his agent. Make of that what you will.

  8. As a seventh day adventist, I’m happy just to be mentioned.

  9. Honestly, I don’t understand the end game of authors like this, it seems to be about exclusion of others (namely males) rather than about appealing to their niche. When I find myself in conversation with women like this (and they’re often clever and fun to talk with even if moonbat crazy) I ask them one simple question: “Would you prefer men not read at all rather than read books of which you don’t approve?” The answer, almost always, and always hidden beneath a mound of equivocation, is yes, they’d prefer men not have books that appeal to men rather than live with the fact that what appeals to men (speaking in generalities as there are men who like feminist approved stuff and women who like feminist unapproved stuff) is not necessarily what appeals to them.

    As if by controlling what media men consume they can change men into something ‘better’ (as in women). Even though what actually seems to happen is that the vast majority of men merely move on and refuse to consume the ‘approved’ media. A show (or author, or movie series) that starts out appealing to men, that then branches out to appeal to women, which then goes out of their way to appeal to women, which then starts to lecture men on how to be ‘better’, will soon not have very many male consumers left.

    This has happened in scripted television, in movies, in books, and seems to be happening more and more in sports (sports for god’s sake!). In each case the male consumers have drifted away unless they see something that they know won’t kick them in the junk. And even still we keep a wary eye on our junk to make sure there’s no sucker kick to the junk.

    And there’s almost always a sucker kick to the junk.

    Why exclude? Why does it matter if someone reads something you don’t like? Who thinks like that? ‘I can have what I want, but don’t you dare have what you want!’ It doesn’t increase the supply of the stuff you like. It just narrows the entire market down to the stuff you like.

    Steve

    • I have always thought that in my own books I divided the male-female interests fairly down the middle, just as my main characters are almost evenly split between male and female. (Equally split between female and domestic interests, and the masculine-outer interest stuff.) Yet, oddly enough, about two-thirds of my most dedicated fans are men.

      Long talk today with a client, who happened to have read the Trilogy – and couldn’t stop raving about it; best book he has read in years, he said. Well, old-time Texan, and a little older than me. My daughter and I both think that having been in the military allows us to better write appealing male characters. YMMV, though.

    • John R. Ellis

      Look at Marvel Comics. Used to be the top selling direct market mainstream U.S.comics publisher. I.P. source for the current batch of summer blockbusters. Then, three years ago, the media attention and niche audience success of -one- title for some reason inspired them to try and remake their ENTIRE LINE into a pandering, preachy, anti-male tirade, rendering characters unrecognizable, fans alienated, and sales in the dump.

      Why did they do it? Because so many vocal members of the new niche audience told them repeatedly on social media that there was a “vast untapped audience” out there that would buy those books, if only they put the EVUL, SCARY, MEAN older, mostly male fans in their place.

      Needless to say, the “untapped audience” never bothered to turn up and the previous audience might be too burned out to return. Which might cause the ENTIRE direct comics market to finally death spiral for good. 😦

      • I got a freebie coupon for a Marvel graphic novel on Kindle. They give a list of 100 to choose from. I picked Excalibur, because I never did get the first issues and how they became that, so… And it was nice to see heroes like Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler, who are prolly my favorites.

        Their new stuff? I skimmed past.

  10. Matt B

    This reminds me of a personal story. Many years ago, I decided that after having grown up on the East Coast of the US I might like it better on the West. I was born in LA, so moving back was an attractive thought. Not liking pollution, I moved to Berkeley rather than LA.

    Having grown up reading F/SF, I was quite pleased to be able to meet authors. I was a great fan of Marion Zimmer Bradly’s Darkover novels in those days. That is, until I read her most recent (at the time) work. All the men were cardboard cutouts, and most of them were if not downright evil, pretty bad. Not one good man in the entire book. I never read anything by her again.

    As time went by, I learned a great deal more of where the attitude came from, but I still believed that if someone disliked me that much, damned if I was going to pay her bills by buying her work. I retain that attitude today. An author can only really piss me off badly once.

    No second chance. No gender political polemic in my entertainment. Don’t preach too hard even if I agree with your politics. Happily, I’ve developed a pretty good nose for stuff that will stink that way, so I’m rarely burned anymore. Authors that delight me are rewarded. There has to be a carrot to balance the stick.

  11. Mary

    ” Fortunately, we have excellent precedents as to why that not required any more.”

    Any more? As if there were not the central point of Plato’s Apology of Socrates.

  12. Bob

    They have chosen their audience.

    May they have joy in each other.

  13. Kristina

    I tried to read some of Hurley’s books via the library. The worldbuilding is interesting ever so often but the characters, both men and women, are flat as hell. No thank you.

    And Leckie’s stuff is pure boredom. I don’t give a shit about pronouns ect ect…just give me a good story. Not boring college drivel. I already survived the attempted indoctrination at my old campus.

    Plus I found a fun indie series that has a much better handle on sentient starships and people in general.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B072QBZD24/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

    Hell even the Brainships series did it a whole lot better then Leckie.

    • adventuresfantastic

      I read Hurley’s first book and wanted to kill all the characters before I was halfway through. Other than a short story, I’ve not read Leckie. Have no interest in reading more of either of them.

      I’ve notice the local B&N seems to have a disproportionately large number of copies of whatever is current by Hurley, Leckie, Jemison, Hines, Meadows, and Scalzi, to the tune of two to three more copies (at least) than most books released at the same time. I’m not sure if it’s a local person ordering the stock or someone at corporate. But it explains why I have trouble finding something I want to read when they send me a coupon.

      • Bob

        To paraphrase Family Guy:
        “Oh my God, Hard Magic! I wanna buy this!”
        “Great! and as a bonus I’ll throw in The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley”
        “No thank you.”
        “No charge?”
        “I do not want it.”
        “But it’s free, sir.”
        “If that book even touches Hard Magic, I will kill you.”